It's Patriot's Day weekend! This is one of Boston's biggest holiday weekends (yes, we get Monday off!). The nation's most famous marathon occurs here on Monday. Sooo, we'll take a brief break from the Thailand! series to focus on Boston for a few posts before heading back to Thailand (where we'll begin exploring the recipes from my cooking classes there!)
I still remember the first time I ever visited Boston.
I was seventeen years old and had just received my acceptance to MIT. My mom had a good friend (who also happens to be a renowned cookbook author!) who lived in Salem, so we visited Boston as a family and did all the touristy things - visited the Salem Witch Museum, toured both the Harvard and MIT campuses, and ate at Legal Sea Foods.
Legal Sea Foods has always been one of those places that tourists visit because 1) Boston is known for its excellent seafood and 2) Legal Sea Foods is one of the most historic, established, and well-known names in the industry.
There's much truth to it - the seafood at Legal is excellent.
However, the cuisine is also pretty simple.
You can get your fresh seafood wood-grilled, fried, or baked. They have familiar, New England dishes like clam chowder, crab cakes, and lobster rolls. The sides are classic comfort foods, like mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli with cheese, and French fries. Sure, they've incorporated a few twists here and there, such as dishes with an Asian or Mediterranean bent. However, by and large, Legal Sea Foods is a place you visit to eat simply prepared, classic New England style seafood.
In 2011, Legal opened up a brand new, 20,000 feet flagship restaurant right at the waterfront.
Legal Harborside is huge. It sits right on the water (gorgeous views of the harbor!) and has three floors, each with a slightly different theme. The third floor is a lounge and bar which opens up during the summer into some really nice outdoor space. The first floor is the more casual dining floor. You'll find raw oysters plus classic, simply grilled seafood dishes served at all Legal Sea Foods. They've also added pastas and pizzas.
The second floor is the "celebratory dining" floor. It's really the first time Legal Sea Foods has ever had a more upscale restaurant. Here, we finally get a chance to taste the excellent seafood of Legal prepared in a more creative way.
One day last summer, Bryan decided it would be fun for us to see just what kind of creative dishes Legal Harborside would offer.
The menu has a nice assortment of appetizers ($12-$20) and main dishes ($30-$54). There is also a chef's tasting menu, which changes seasonally. The current menu lists a four-course tasting for $55, which isn't bad considering the cost of a normal 2-course meal could be at least that much. When we went during the summer, the chef's tasting was a five course meal for $75. I guess it changes periodically depending on an number of factors.
The bread was a fun assortment of a thin, spiced (maybe za'atar?) flatbread, mini corn muffins, and a classic loaf served with extra virgin olive oil. This is definitely a bit more "fancy" than the sourdough rolls they serve at the normal Legal.
For the amuse we had a tiny bite of Cantaloupe Gel topped with Cucumber and Prosciutto Dust. The gel was tart and sweet, with just a tad of a kick. We couldn't really taste the prosciutto.
The soup was a cold Spicy Corn & Crab Soup, made with coconut, edamame, and mint. Though the presentation was elegant, I personally found the soup a little too thick and creamy. It was also on the sweet side, and I longed for a bit more umami.
Bryan got a different soup because he can't have coconut milk (an ingredient in the previous soup). His Lobster Soup was a hot soup, accented with hints of sherry. Thankfully, Bryan enjoyed it. I thought it was fine, but it did not blow me away.
We started with a generous salad made with "Brulee" Peaches, Baby Arugula, Figs, Amarene Cherries and Ricotta Salata in a kalamata-sherry vinaigrette. I found the dressing to be just a tad sweet, but overall I though the ingredients were very high quality. The very peppery arugula offset the sweetness from perfectly ripe peach, the sweetened cherries, and the fresh figs. The cheese and the very dry wine (with which this salad was paired) also helped cut the overall sweetness of the dish. This was solid, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Our next course was an upscale Lobster Salad which was served with Avocado, Hearts of Palm, Yuzu Vinaigrette & Nori. There was a slight service faux pas here because the wine came out long after the food came out - oops!
One of my favorites dishes of the evening was the Seared Baby Octopus served with Merguez Sausage, Smoked Tomato Coulis, Caramelize Peppers and Onions. They cooked the octopus perfectly, and the flavorful sauce stood up to the octopus quite well. I loved the spicy, tomato cream sauce, and the sausage had a lovely kick.
Furthermore, the wine pairing was excellent. They do a really good job with the wine pairing!
I really enjoyed the ingredients in our final course, the Grilled Cobia, White Sweet Potato Puree, Smoked Hominy, and Apple Smoked Bacon. The bacon added a nice smoky and salty balance to the slightly sweet corn (hominy) and white sweet potato (which might have had parsnips inside as well?). The fish itself was solid and went well with the accompaniments.
For dessert, we had a Warm Plum Clafouti topped with some Crème Fraiche Ice Cream.
And finally, a few small bites of chocolate as a finishing bite.
Overall, it was a nice meal. The creativity of the food is most definitely several notches above what the classic Legal Sea Foods serves. There were certain dishes that we really thought were winners (like the octopus), and others that were only OK (like the soups).
One huge benefit of all Legal Sea Foods restaurants that I failed to mention earlier is that they have a very strong philosophy about wine pricing: they hardly mark up their wine prices. Their wines are priced only slightly above retail, and sometimes, if the wines are hard-to-get on the open market, the Legal price may actually be lower than the retail price (which we found with a recent Joseph Phelps Insignia bottle that we enjoyed there).
In the past, Bryan always lamented the fact that, even though Legal sold all this amazing, highly regarded wine at such good prices, it was hard to justify spending the money if you were just pairing it with a lighter seafood (not the perfect pairing), or if just eating a plain seafood dinner.
He likes the fact that Legal Harborside gives you the opportunity to enjoy a nicer meal to match the super nice bottles of wine that they sell.
The space is gorgeous, and this is a fun place to visit as a tourist if you want a combination of the high quality seafood, gorgeous views, and slightly more creative cooking. The cooking is pretty good, though probably not the best that Boston has to offer.
Personally as a local, if I were just coming here alone or with Bryan, I would opt to stick with the more "casual" Legal, enjoying a plate of their excellent raw oysters while sipping on a glass of very reasonably priced champagnes (or whatever suits my fancy).
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